There's a place where embarrassment and hypocrisy regularly meet, and that's anywhere lawmakers gather in Springfield.
The most recent gaffe came as an effort was being made to do the right thing.
In the wake of accusations of sexual harassment directed at Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and the subsequent flood of #MeToo tags on social media, it's become incumbent for leaders and supervisors to make sure their hands are clean. We have no room and no tolerance for those who use their positions to take advantage of their authority to harass others.
In a laudable attempt to stay ahead of the curve of controversy, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan put forth a proposal for legislation adding specific language about sexual harassment to state employee and lobbyist ethics laws, and for training and reporting procedures on sexual harassment.
It's not difficult to appear as though you're doing something, however slight or obvious, about a perceived problem. So far, so good for Illinois. There will continue to be issues needing to be dealt with. But you move to the high ground when you're able to point to something that's being done and you're also able to punish that person quickly, being able to say, “We just told you this was wrong.”
Unfortunately, at the same hearing where Madigan proposed his additions, crime victim advocate Denise Rotheimer detailed allegations of misconduct toward her by Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago. Rotheimer tried to file a complaint without success. The Office of Legislative Inspector General is supposed to handle such issues, but the position had, until it was filled this month, been empty since Dec. 31, 2014. The House and Senate were supposed to fill the position, but didn't get around to it for almost three years.
On Nov. 4, the legislature finally acted, naming former Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie B. Porter as temporary legislative inspector general through June 30. Three days later, they passed the ethics code revisions, and waived the one-year statute of limitations that would have nullified complaints filed more than a year before Porter’s appointment.
Republicans accused Madigan of dragging his feet on filling the vacancy. Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, accepted a share of the blame for the length of the vacancy. Madigan's silence is deafening.
It's typical of Illinois politics that those in the Capitol manage to pull a loss out of a victory. How could any accusations of misconduct be handled if the position charged with investigating was empty? The answer is, none could. Rotheimer's complaint was one of 26 (according to Madigan) or 27 (according the Chicago Tribune) filed in the time when the Office of Legislative Inspector General did not have a tenant.
It's troubling to ponder how many more of these “missing” appointments exist in the midst of the morass of inaction in Springfield. It's additionally troubling to ponder what might have to happen for the next example of legislative incompetence to be uncovered.